Last week, I wrote about why I love staying in budget hostels, and why I prefer them to fancy hotels. That said, when it is 7am in the morning and you are hearing someone’s alarm go off for the umpteenth time, you might just find yourself cursing that ridiculous travel blogger who told you this was a good idea. So, in the interests of everyone being happy hostellers, there is some hostel etiquette we should all follow.

Now, this article might come across a little harsh, and do keep in mind it’s meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek. But only a little. I don’t care how cheap a hostel is, it costs nothing to be a semi-decent human, and nobody wants to be treated like a social pariah in the hostel kitchen. So, seriously, let’s all make a 2019 resolution to follow some basic hostel etiquette, yeah?

Also – fair warning: I’m up on my high horse and when I get up here I tend to go full ‘Strayan and start swearing. You have been warned. After I write this article, I plan to take an aspirin and have a lie down, so I should be back to regular programming in a few days.

Hostel Etiquette Rule 1: Two alarms, that’s it!

Oh, look. We’re less than 200 words into this post and I’ve mentioned it twice – is it clear I’m feeling a little salty? In fact, this post is inspired by a recent pair of hostel guests who, after arriving in hammered at 4am (no judgment here) had alarms that went off at 7:00am – for several minutes. Then 7:10am. 7:20am. Etc. At 8:45am I’d lost all human decency and sat up like I’d just risen from my crypt and told them I’d had it and if the alarm wasn’t off in 3.5 seconds Mr iPhone was going to be “rehomed”.

Now, look. I totally get the allure of the snooze. Trust me, I’d snooze my way through an entire day if I could, and take no less than four alarms to get out of bed on a regular workday.

In hostels, though? No. No. No. NO. You get two alarms, that’s it. Seriously, if I can drag my semi-conscious body out of my bunk after the second bar of the iPhone’s “Radar”, so can you! Two alarms people, and then you either haul your butt out of bed or admit defeat and turn it off entirely (I say go for the latter, but you do you).

Also, while on one hand I am seriously impressed by some hostel stayers sheer commitment to sleeping through their alarms no matter how many adjacent rooms they wake up, if you don’t wake up for an alarm: find another method! No one wants to hear a three-minute interlude of AAAAHT AAAAHT AAAAAHT at the crack of dawn. If you do this, someone may throw a sock at you. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Hostel Etiquette Rule 2: Minimise droppables when you go out.

Many hostel guests are “fond of a tipple”, to borrow an expression from the polite Brits I know (Australian version: “they get f****g maggot”- charming, ‘Straya). While this might be a gripe for some people, I actually like it. I’ve been awoken many a time in the early hours of the morning, giggling to myself as fully grown adults conduct themselves somewhere between a baby giraffe and Courtney Love circa 1996.

I do, however, appreciate that not everyone finds drunk people as amusing as I do, and I also have to agree that my goodwill sours pretty fast as people inevitably start dropping things. CRASH, BANG, CRASH, CRASH. At this point my amusement turns to sheer confusion as I try to solve the mystery of what on earth these people are carrying to cause so much damn noise?!

You know what you need for a good night out? Money, keys, phone. Maybe some ID if you’re lucky enough to still have those youthful good looks. You do not need to bring bags and pockets full of useless crap that, after your ninth 2€ vodka soda, gets loudly dropped all over the dorm room. (Side note: why do dorm rooms insist on using tiled floors?!)

Just accept that even if you promise yourself ‘it will only be one drink’, it won’t, and leave anything that’s liable to become a loud projectile in the dorm where it belongs. Your dorm buddies will thank you for it.

How we look to hostel staff lying on sofas, oversharing with strangers

Hostel Etiquette Rule 3: WE CAN HEAR YOU, even if you think we can’t.

Pretty much every seasoned hosteller will tell you about the horrific awkwardness that arises when someone brings a ~special friend~ back to the dorm, and all of a sudden the sound of movement pierces the otherwise silent room. 

Again, you don’t have to tell me about the allure of a foreign accent and a sexy body that’s probably skipped the communal showers yesterday. I married a holiday romance! However, no matter how enamoured you are with your new boo, your dorm mates are not going to be feeling the love. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be hearing it either.

I get it! You think you’re being quiet. “No one can hear us!” sexy Samantha who you just met in the bar whispers. Sorry, YES. WE. CAN. Especially if you’ve been drinking, because as we learned from hostel etiquette rule #2, drunk people are seriously unaware. And definitely if either you or Samantha are enjoying it (which is kind of the point).

So, to avoid your roommates having to experience the cringe which is hearing the movement of cheap bunk bed legs on cheap tiles, or – even worse – your attempts at pillow talk in a foreign language, please for the love of God get a private room. Can’t afford it? Ask the person in the bunk under you. You know what, send me a message and I’ll paypal you the cashola! Just don’t decide two in a bunk is a good idea.

Hostel Etiquette Rule #4: Headphones on = world off.

One of the absolute best things about hostels is the communal atmosphere and chance to meet new people – in fact, I ranked this as my #1 reason why I like staying in hostels. I love that something that most solo travellers (in particular) have in common is that in common spaces, they’re always down for a chat.

You know what else most solo travellers have in common? They like their own space sometimes. As in, being alone, with no one else around. I mean think about it, why would you semi-regularly fuck off to a far away destination all on your lonesome if you really hate your own company? Now, I also appreciate that it’s generally considered socially unacceptable to tell people you just flat out don’t want to talk to them no matter how nice and/or interesting (or not) they are.

So, I feel like us introverts developed the ultimate in polite signals: the headphones. I consider headphones like my introvert charging cable. I need some downtime, and chances are if I’m listening to music or watching some crap TV show (cough Riverdale) in my bunk, I’m not really feeling the kumbayah communal attitude.

While most people respect this, I have started to notice an uptake in those who just ignore it, and continue on the “Hi there, where are you from, how long are you travelling for? Oh, part of a larger trip or just here? Wow, super cool, I’m off to Berlin next.” path like a runaway freight train. One question I might give the benefit of the doubt. But if you get a one word answer, and only one earphone is removed (my ultimate passive-aggressive dick move), please just let us introverts get back to our crappy teen bastardisations of beloved comics. Please.

Karen’s expression, when she can’t find the soy almond milk at breakfast

Hostel Etiquette Rule #5: It’s a hostel, not a five star resort – adjust your expectations accordingly.

If you have a dull life with no hobbies except ranting at strangers on the internet (like me), you may enjoy one of my strange past-times: reading 1-star hostel reviews on Tripadvisor. I love them, the more unreasonable the better. Gotta love Karen (it’s always Karen) from Arkansas: “Hostel was very LOUD. People TALKING a LOT at ALL HOURS. Breakfast DID NOT HAVE EGGS and showers seemed DIRTY. Staff very unprofessional, one appeared DRUNK. Never again.”

Yes, Karen, that is what we all signed up for. This is why we paid 10€ for a bed when down the road they’re extorting 100€. I’d like eggs, too, but I’m accepting that my own stinginess means no eggs for Georgie Mack.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of complaints that are totally valid about hostels. Plenty of hostels deserve 1-star reviews: trust me, I’ve stayed in them (thanks, Mannix Hostel Amsterdam). There’s also plenty of complaints about fellow guests that are reasonable: I mean I’m currently writing a diatribe about this. However, the old addage ‘you get what you pay for’ does tend to ring true here. Part of the fun of hostels is that they can be a bit grim.

If you’re sensitive to noise, hate drunk people, and expect a stellar level of cleanliness, you probably won’t enjoy the hostel experience – and that’s totally fine. As mentioned in my previous post, my own husband thinks hostels are the creation of Satan and even I like to mix up my hostel stays with private hotels. But let’s not ruin everybody else’s time by being a little black cloud in a dress bemoaning that there were dishes in the shared communal sink. Be realistic about your expectations and what you’re willing to put up with so no one has a crap holiday.

Hostel Etiquette Rule #6: Don’t steal from the book exchange.

Seriously, what kind of monster are you? There is a special place in hell for those who take a book in the book exchange without leaving one in its place.

Book thieves are the reason all we’ve got left to read is Liane Moriarty’s “The Husband’s Secret”

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Ah, backpacker hostels. No matter how much you love them, there's always those few moments to have you tearing your hair out. Here's some basic hostel etiquette!

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  1. Could not have found this at a better time – I stayed in my first hostel in Australia this week and so much of this resonates. I also think I’m stealing the word droppables haha that really made me laugh!

  2. Oh man, Georgie! Loved this! Genuinely laughed out loud multiple times! I hope everyone everywhere who is even thinking about sleeping in a hostel reads this!

    The last one is so me. I love a good one star review. And not just for hotels, but books, films and other products, as well. It amuses me to no end how unreasonable people are! As you say some are totally legit, but some are just outrageous! I particularly love the ones that are essentially an essay in review form and have nearly nothing to do with what they’re reviewing. And yes, it is always Karen!! Ugh, the alarm thing is so annoying! I, too, could hit the snooze button literally all day if given the chance, buuuuut NOT IN A HOSTEL SURROUNDED BY OTHER PEOPLE!

    And can we seriously talk about how INCREDIBLY RUDE it is to talk to people wearing headphones in situations that don’t classify as an emergency! Someone literally yanked them out of my ears while I was walking once. I literally hadn’t heard them (hello, headphones!) and all they wanted was directions. We were in the middle of downtown Seattle during the day – surely I’m not the ONLY person you could ask!? Gah!


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